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There has been a good deal of research assessing the learning style preferences of students (Carbo, 1983; James & Galbraith, 1984; Reed, 1996). This research has consistently revealed a strong relationship between academic achievement and individual learning style. However, there are few studies that have examined the differential preferences of students beyond their primary learning style category. The purpose of this study was to explore the underlying learning preferences of tactile learners to determine if they could be further differentiated from those whose tactile preference is low.

The concept of learning styles has many different definitions (Reed, 1996). Generally, learning styles are thought to represent an individuals unique approach to learning material. They are the consistent ways in which students respond to stimuli in the learning environment (Matthews, 1991). Learning styles might be thought of as the cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that contribute to a student's ideal learning pattern (Price & Dunn, 1997; Hickson & Paltimore, 1996). A learning style approach places an emphasis on a student's strengths, rather than their deficiencies (Hickson & Baltimore). Semple and Pascale (1984) contend that how a student learns is one of the most important factors related to academic success.

Research has examined the different learning style preferences of males and females, the differences across grades, and the various learning preferences of ethnic minorities. Hickson and Baltimore (1996) found that females have more of a preference for visual learning tasks than do males. Research assessing the learning styles of ethnic minorities has revealed 12 variables that discriminate the learning styles of four ethic groups (Hickson, Land & Aikman, 1994), suggesting learning may be influenced by cultural differences. Therefore, an awareness of learning style differences of ethnic populations and accommodating these differences in the classroom may result in better academic achievement for these youth.

The particular learning style preferences of students have been found to have a strong impact on achievement in different academic areas. Corlett (1993) proposes that if we are to respond effectively to the needs of students, we must understand how they learn best and develop instructional methods that respond appropriately. For example, Carbo (1983) suggests that students who are fluent readers may have stronger auditory and visual preferences, whereas younger beginner readers and readers with disabilities tend to have more tactile preferences. This is only one example emphasizing the importance of assessing learning styles in the educational environment.

This study compared students with a high preference for tactile learning with those with a low preference. A person with a tactile learning style learns best through the use of manipulative and three-dimensional models (Price & Dunn, 1997). They prefer to be able to touch and move resources (Semple & Pascale, 1984) and should be allowed to utilize models and other real objects to plan, demonstrate, report and evaluate. Further, they may need encouragement to keep written or graphic records. Although these factors remain important to enhancing the achievement of students, it is also important to understand the secondary learning styles of students, or the preferences aside from tactile that distinguish high tactile learners from low tactile learners.



A total of 25,104 students in grades five through twelve completed the Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) (Price & Dunn, 1997). These students were further divided based on their scores on the Tactile scale.


The LSI for grades five through twelve is a self-report instrument that contains items on a five-point Liken scale ranging from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree (Price & Dunn, 1997). The scale is designed to identify each student's learning style preference based on varying environmental, sociological, and physical conditions. The inventory assesses 22 different areas of individual learning preferences, divided into four learning conditions. The following areas are assessed: (a) environmental (Sound, Temperature, Light, Design); (b) emotionality (Motivation, Responsibility, Persistence, and the need for either Structure or Flexibility); (c) sociological needs (Learning Alone, With Peers, With Adults, and/or in Several Ways); and (d) physical needs (Perceptual Preference(s), Time of Day, Intake, and Mobility) (Price & Dunn). Data collected in 1997 indicates that 95% of the reliabilities for grades five through twelve are equal to or greater than .60. Further, the Pearson Product Moment Correlation test-retest reliability score for the inventory is .929.


The standardized means of the tactile scores for each grade level were computed Table 1 presents a summary of these means. As is evident from the table, the mean score on the Tactile scale decreased as the students grade level increased.

Table 1 Means of Tactile Preference Scores of Each Grade Level
Grade       Mean

  5         53.38
  6         52.05
  7         50.38
  8         50.02
  9         48.45
 10         48.46
 11         47.60
 12         47.55
Total       49.96

Students were divided into two groups based on their scores on the Tactile scale. Those students that scored a 40 or below (n = 4938) were compared to students scoring a 60 or above (n = 3862) using a discriminate analysis. There were a total of eight variables that significantly entered the discriminate equation. Although other variables entered the discriminate equation, the mean values were not significantly different and probably had a suppressor relationship. Therefore, these variables did not provide meaningful information to describe individuals high on tactile preference. Table 2 contains a description of the means of the remaining variables. Students preferring a tactile learning environment might best be described as also preferring to learn more through kinesthetic and auditory means, preferring more intake, preferring to learn in several ways, are less conforming, and are motivated by their teachers and a parent-figure. Based on these eight variables, 87.8% of the students were classified correctly.

Table 2 Means of Learning Preference Variables for Low and High Tactile Groups
Variable              Low       High

Kinesthetic           41.13     59.91
Intake                48.09     53.21
Auditory              47.67     52.82
Authority             46.89     52.60
Teacher Motivated     48.15     53.70
Several Ways          47.34     52.30
Parent Motivated      48.59     53.17
Alone/Peers           47.49     52.32

Note. Low Tactile = Group with Tactile Scores <=40

High Tactile = Group with Tactile Scores >=60


The results of this study suggest that students with a high preference for tactile learning can be further distinguished from those with a low preference based on eight other variables. This implies that students have additional learning preferences that should be considered when developing appropriate instructional methods. Teachers must attempt to structure the learning environment and their expectations of children around individual learning styles (Hickson, et al., 1994). For the tactile learner, this might include developing lessons involving manipulation, touching, and feeling the materials (Semple & Pascale, 1984). This should enhance the compatibility of teaching and learning, thereby making the learning environment more enjoyable and more productive for students.

Students should also be encouraged to strengthen their weaker learning styles. Graham and Kershner (1996) state that there is a practical importance to developing confidence in learning styles other than the preferred, as versatile individuals tend to perform better overall than those with more limited preferences (Buell, Pettigrew, & Langendorfer, 1987).

The importance of learning style identification extends beyond children and their teachers. James and Galbraith (1984) found that older adult learners are better equipped to obtain additional education if they are familiar with their dominant learning style(s). Further, adult learning center program planners and developers should be familiar with their audience's dominant learning styles, as this facilitates the appropriate selection of subject materials, resources, procedures, and methodologies for older adult learners. It is suggested that instructors provide a variety of instructional activities to meet the varying learning styles of the adult learner.

The results of learning styles research have implications for educational administrators, teachers, and parents (Hickson, et al., 1984). The impact extends to policy making, instructional strategies, and counseling methods. Further research should examine other learning style preferences to discover underlying similarities and differences. Longitudinal studies would be helpful in understanding potential developmental changes (Ricca, 1984). Further, Reed (1996) suggests examining the impact of psychotropic medications on learning style development.


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Graham, N. A., & Kershner, J. R. (1996). Reading styles in children with dyslexia: A neuropsychological evaluation of modality preference on the reading style inventory. Learning Disability Quarterly, 19, 233-240.

Hickson, J., & Baltimore, M. (1996). Gender related learning style patterns of middle school pupils. School Psychology International, 17, 59-70.

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James, W. B., & Galbraith, M. W. (1984). Perceptual learning styles of older adults. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 3, 214-218.

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Counseling Psychology
University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas 66045-2336
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Date:Mar 22, 2000

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